sustainability learning: engaging
head, hands and heart
Integrated Studies, Faculty of Land and Food Systems,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
School of Education, University of California, Davis, California, USA, and
Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Purpose – The current UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development echoes many scholars’
calls to re-envision education for sustainability. Short of a complete overhaul of education, the paper
seeks to propose learning objectives that can be integrated across existing curricula. These learning
objectives are organized by head, hands and heart – balancing cognitive, psychomotor and affective
domains. University programs and courses meeting these learning objectives exhibit an emergent
property here termed transformative sustainability learning (TSL).
Design/methodology/approach – Theoretically, TSL grew from traditions of sustainability
education and transformative education. Practically, TSL emerged from experimental learning
collaborations sponsored by the University of British Columbia in 2003 and 2004 in an effort to enable
explicit transitions to sustainability-oriented higher education. Primarily through action research,
these community-based, applied learning experiences constituted cyclical processes of innovation,
implementation and reﬂection.
Findings – The paper ﬁnds: advancement of head, hands and heart as an organizing principle by
which to integrate transdisciplinary study (head); practical skill sharing and development (hands); and
translation of passion and values into behaviour (heart); development of a cognitive landscape for
understanding TSL as a unifying framework amongst related sustainability and transformative
pedagogies that are inter/transdisciplinary, practical and/or place-based; creation of learning
objectives, organized to evaluate a course or program’s embodiment of TSL.
Originality/value – By enabling change within existing structures of higher education, the paper
complements and contributes to more radical departures from the institution. The work to date
demonstratespotential in applying this learningframework to courses and programs in higher education.
Keywords Action research, Experiential learning, Education, Learning, Canada
Paper type Conceptual paper
The authors wish to thank the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund for funding
allocated to Dr Kurt Grimm and others to develop the UBC ﬁeld course, The Science and Practice
of Sustainability (TSAPOS). Thank you to all our TSAPOS, UBC Learning Exchange, and Centre
for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm colleagues, teachers, students, participants and
friends. A heartfelt thank you to: Cindy Prescott, Art Bomke and Alejandro Rojas for insightful
comments and insights on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
Received 19 April 2006
Revised 29 August 2006
Accepted 11 April 2007
International Journal of Sustainability
in Higher Education
Vol. 9 No. 1, 2008
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
Calls for profound changes in higher education are becoming commonplace as both critics
and visionaries lay out a context for sustainability education (Bowers, 2001; Bogotch,
2002; Furman and Gruenewald, 2004; Reid and Petocz, 2006; UNESCO, 2006). Againstthis
backdrop, we offer universities and colleges the framework of transformative
sustainability learning (TSL ) and the organizing principle of head, hands and heart.
TSL is a series of learning objectives corresponding to cognitive ( head ), psychomotor
( hands ) and affective ( heart ) domains of learning that facilitate personal experience for
participants resulting in profound changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes related to
enhancing ecological, social and economic justice. TSL contributes to the broad ﬁelds of
sustainability education and transformative learning by articulating the relationship of
these pedagogies to each other and to the organizing principle of head, hands and heart.
In uniting the pedagogies that inform both sustainability and transformative education,
we describe how learning in tertiary institutions can enact personal and societal
transformations to sustainability. The explicit linking of sustainability and
transformation enables TSL to emerge as a distinct and useful pedagogy, a cultural
politic of schooling, learning and teaching (McLaren, 2003) that includes “what is taught,
how teaching occurs, and how what is taught is learned” (Diekelmann, 2004).
Organization of paper
The ﬁrst section of this paper outlines our approach in developing TSL. First we present
the context for TSL, namely, the theoretical basis of sustainability education
and transformative learning. Next, we introduce the case studies in sustainability
education that we investigated. These UBC learning programs primarily informed our
pedagogical inquiry into sustainability and transformative education; they constitute
learning experiments and case studies, and laid the foundation for the development of
TSL learning objectives. In the second section, we present our ﬁndings, which consist of:
.advancement of head, hands and heart as an organizing principle for cognitive,
psychomotor and affective learning;
.development of a pedagogical landscape for understanding TSL as a unifying
framework amongst related sustainability and transformative pedagogies
pertaining to the agenda outlined by the UN Decade of EfSD; and
.creation of a program assessment matrix, organized by TSL learning objectives,
to assess a program’s embodiment of TSL.
The latter ﬁnding, in particular, enables uniﬁcation of sustainability programs, as the
learning objectives of TSL have been gleaned from the sustainability pedagogies and case
studies that we discuss. Through the program assessment matrix, we offer a working
model for incorporating TSL into planning, implementing and evaluating sustainability
programs. The third section concludes the paper, wherein we share some implications and
recommendations of how the TSL framework can be used for program evaluation.
Education is at odds with sustainability when modern economies function to damage
and destroy the ecological systems that support human and non-human communities.
The explicit mission of contemporary school reform is to prepare students to
perpetuate these problematic economies (Gruenewald, 2003). Many of today’s social
and ecological crises, such as climate change, a growing gap between the rich and
poor, and two-thirds of the world population experiencing malnourishment, are
perpetrated and perpetuated by people with post-secondary education (Orr, 1991;
UNESCO, 2006). Mainstream higher education is implicated in the crises we are
experiencing through training world leaders. If current education leads to
unsustainability, then education can – and should – contribute to sustainability
(Rees, 2003; Siebenhu
This research is based on two premises. The ﬁrst premise is that students’ localized
places of study, work and recreation are the centers of their experiences that help
teach them how the world works and how they ﬁt into that world (Gruenewald, 2003).
If the context for sustainability education is both the students’ local environment
and the institution of higher education, conﬂicts of interest are bound to arise. For this
reason, sustainability education must be situated in both the university and
community environments. Further, university and community must ﬁnd or create the
necessary common ground to minimize conﬂicts of interests. This may require
university – community collaborations to increase both in breadth and depth.
Hence, the second premise of this research is that colleges and universities can take
an active role as centers for both inquiry and action in local, regional, and global
space(s) (Gruenewald, 2003). The relationship between sustainability and education are
well documented (see for example, Talloires Declaration of University Presidents for a
Sustainable Future ( Mayer et al., 1990); The Halifax Declaration ( International
Association of Universities, 1992), and The Earth Charter Commission (2000)).
To accommodate this second premise, the very structural foundations and goals of
schooling must be examined, and for the most part, rebuilt. Sustainability education
must therefore be prepared to deconstruct and reconstruct all aspects of teaching and
Higher education in western societies overwhelmingly fragments knowledge into
disciplines and often leads to conﬂict between individuals, ideologies and nations (Birch,
1998), thereby furthering “the conquest of nature and the industrialization of the planet”
(Orr, 1992, p. x). The prevailing design of education ﬁnds its roots in rationalism, a
doctrine that knowledge is derived from an “evidence-based,” “rigorous” and “scientiﬁc”
understanding of the world (Lambkin, 1998), which ideally leads to objectivity,
certainty, universality and predictability (Phelan, 2004). The dominance of rationalism
over other humanist qualities, such as intuition, common sense, creativity, ethics,
memory and spirituality, serves to divide knowledge into smaller and smaller elements,
ultimately leading society from a focus on reason to the realm of unreason (Saul, 1996).
This model of rationalism has led to the search for value-free knowledge, a goal of
efﬁciency and a focus on technology; there exists therefore, weariness “of curricula
immunized from the human condition and devoid of story, attachment and meaning”
Detachment, however, does not translate into an absence of values. All curricula are
in fact value-laden (Posner, 2004; Schubert, 1986). As Orr (1991) has said, we must not
assume that it is education that will save us, or advance us or progress us; rather it is
education of a certain kind. If our collective goal is a more sustainable present and future,
we must manifest, encourage and impart values that contribute towards that goal.
Indeed, the recognition of the limitations of relying solely on rationalism has resulted in a
call for the reassertion of humanist values and an acknowledgment of human fallibility
(Saul, 1997); as such we agree that “it is time to ask what we need to know to live
humanely, peacefully, and responsibly on the earth, and to set research priorities
accordingly” (Orr, 1992, p. xi). We have the choice to change our educational mandates to
stop teaching for “unsustainability” (i.e. the perpetration and perpetuation of social and
ecological crises) and transform our pedagogical perspective to teach for sustainability
(i.e. social and ecological justice). In order to move beyond reproduction of our social ills,
teaching for sustainability requires transformation to new ways of approaching
education and life.
The years 2005-2014 constitute the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable
Development (EfSD), to be led by UN Educational, Scientiﬁc and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO). This decade speaks to the bridges that must be built between academia and
community needs, as well as the need to enact sustainability in higher education in a
manner that positively affects the larger society and biosphere (Cortese and
McDonough, 2003). UNESCO, as the UN’s lead agency to promote EfSD, has identiﬁed
four main goals pursuant to the EfSD. The second of these pertains directly to higher
Rethinking and revising education from nursery school through university to include a clear
focus on the development of the knowledge, skills, perspectives and values related to
sustainability is important to current and future societies. This implies a review of existing
curricula in terms of their objectives and content to develop transdisciplinary understandings
of social, economic and environmental sustainability. It also requires a review of
recommended and mandated approaches to teaching, learning and assessment so that
lifelong learning skills are fostered. These include skills for creative and critical thinking, oral
and written communication, collaboration and cooperation, conﬂict management,
decision-making, problem-solving and planning, and practical citizenship (UNESCO, 2006).
We couple EfSD, or sustainability education with transformative learning, which can be
understood as a process of effecting change in a particular frame of reference (Mezirow,
1997), often with an underlying assumption that individual and social change may result
through transformative group learning (Cranton, 1994). In particular, we are concerned
with perspective transformation (Mezirow, 1985) where the ultimate goal of
transformative learning is to empower individuals to change their frames of reference
or worldviews (Moore, 2005a). Processes of critical reﬂection (Moore, 2005a; Cranton,
1994) of “both habits of mind and points of view” (Moore, 2005a) are fundamental to such
learning, which invokes processes of re/constructing knowledge based on life
experiences, and arriving at new ways of thinking and being (Cranton, 1994). Such
education is founded on critical pedagogy, which critiques the idea that knowledge is
value-free and works to transform society to be more democratic and less oppressive
(Share, 2003). Transformative learning in the context of higher education requires major
shifts in university structures to enable such critically reﬂective, inter/transdisciplinary,
experiential and place-based learning to emerge; and also for university educators to
better prepare for the disorientation and other unexpected potential outcomes that may
arise through this type of learning (Moore, 2005a). In identifying all sustainability
education to have a common vision of perspective transformation, we may better
encourage and enable all participants of education to challenge and be open to change in
their own minds, beliefs and behaviours.
Reﬂection on the content and relevance of education is necessary in reshaping
teaching and learning for more productive means and outcomes. The sustainability
education that emerged since the Earth Summit of 1992 has as of yet proven
insufﬁcient in combating global devastations (Raskin et al., 2002, p. x). Particularly
because sustainability is still often viewed as a messy and contested term, these
changes can only occur as we stop seeking standards for sustainability and instead
start setting them, particularly for the sustainability education movement (Arjen and
Jickling, 2002). This paper is particularly focused on helping to set standards for
sustainability education. It is hoped that integrating the TSL learning objectives across
curricula will help inform the rethinking of higher education.
The UBC learning programs as TSL case studies
In undergoing this pedagogical inquiry, we engaged in case studies on sustainability
education, focusing on process as opposed to product. Case study is useful in serving
as an “intensive detailed description and analysis of a single project, program, or
instructional material in the context of its environment” (Frechtling and Sharp, 1997,
Ch. 9). Our case studies served as fruitful terrain to engage in action research around
sustainability education, where we iteratively cycled through series of reﬂection,
innovation and implementation (Stringer, 1999).
The concept and criteria of TSL and its learning objectives primarily evolved from a
series of three initiatives undertaken at UBC to explore and expand sustainability
education; we used these learning experiences to investigate, develop, apply and
evaluate the TSL learning objectives. These case studies all focused on participants’
interactions with materials and opportunities presented to enhance understanding and
connection with the concepts of sustainability and global citizenship. All three cases
were primarily conducted at the UBC Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm,
and all involved explicit attention to the learning domains of head, hands and heart. In
order to do so, each of these integrated case studies drew on related pedagogical models,
and utilized place-based, integrated teaching, learning and ﬁeldwork. Two of the
authors were involved as instructors and leaders in these courses.
The three case studies were:
(1) The ﬁrst offering of The Science and Practice of Sustainability (TSAPOS)
(2) The second offering of TSAPOS (2004).
(3) Edibility and Awareness: Sustainable Food Systems (2004).
What follows is a short description of each course:
.The Science and Practice of Sustainability 2003 (TSAPOS I); Northern Inner
Coast Pod, August 6-30, 2003. TSAPOS I was a six-credit UBC Department of
Earth and Ocean Sciences course (EOSC 448; GEOG 447). This course was
co-developed with faculty, staff, student and community participants, and
funded by the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund. TSAPOS 2003
was home to 45 students from nine UBC Departments, and involved a
collaborative effort of six co-instructors from different academic backgrounds.
The nature and curriculum of the course was transdisciplinary, including
collaborative group work, community service, experiential education,
ecological-footprinting, reﬂective practice and participatory decision-making.
Of the month-long course, all participants were at UBC for the ﬁrst and last week,
with approximately half of the students and instructors living at UBC Farm in
the ﬁrst season of an on-site pilot ecovillage. This case study focused on one of
the three interconnected, yet autonomous learning “pods” of TSAPOS, facilitated
by two instructors and 12 students who traveled to the Northern Inner Coast of
Vancouver Island for the middle two weeks of the four week course. This group
used the community service-learning model to explore the interfaces of
biophysical, personal and social sustainability, alongside members of First
Nations, governments, NGOs and industry, and numerous community educators
.The Science and Practice of Sustainability 2004 (TSAPOS II); August 13-28,
2004. In the second year of TSAPOS, the course was held entirely at UBC Farm
and efforts were focused on the further development of the pilot ecovillage,
initiated the previous year. The course was shortened to two weeks and three
credits (EOSC 448); there were two instructors, two camp kitchen coordinators
and 20 students in total. The course curriculum of TSAPOS II included:
non-formal education, participatory decision-making and collaborative group
work. TSAPOS II focused on personal sustainability and practical skill building.
.Edibility and awareness: sustainable food systems; February 16-19, 2004.
The UBC Learning Exchange sponsored a community service-learning project at
UBC Farm for four days over reading week of 2004. This program was open to
UBC students and UBC Learning Exchange patrons from the Downtown
Eastside. Local educators and activists were invited to share presentations and
participate in some of the activities. There were four leaders and 18 participants.
Some of the participants were involved as part of a course project, through
enrollment in two UBC Human Ecology courses (BIOL 345; HECO 200). The
curriculum focused on global citizenship, agroecology, food systems and local
economic systems. Reﬂective practice was utilized as the bridge between the
theory and practice of the curriculum.
These case studies all shared a focus on sustainability and global citizenship, as well as
a goal of participant perspective transformation through group experiential education.
Beginning with those common goals, the instructors used a shorthand of “heads-on”
and “hands-on” to denote the cognitive and applied activities of each day. Certain
aspects of course, involvement, such as group reﬂection or individual journaling about
the various activities, learning events and internal experiences of the day, led the
instructors (whom comprise two of the authors) to realize that the courses actually
had three distinct areas of engagement: heads-on, hands-on and hearts-on. In naming
this triad of engagement, the courses progressed through attention to and integration
of all three of these learning domains. Through reﬂection on the courses, head, hands
and heart emerged as an obvious planning principle for sustainability education.
Further, we understood that through engagement in these three areas, we could help to
enact a useful planning and evaluation tool for sustainability education.
This research resulted in three major ﬁndings.
Head, hands and heart as an organizing principle
Head, hands and heart is essentially shorthand for engaging cognitive, psychomotor
and affective learning domains (Bloom et al., 1964). University programs and courses
meeting these learning objectives exhibit the emergent property that we have termed
TSL, learning that facilitates personal experience for participants resulting in
profound changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes related to enhancing ecological,
social and economic justice. TSL learning objectives emerged from study of other
sustainability and transformative pedagogical models, methods and outcomes, and
through participation in the aforementioned experimental learning collaborations that
we considered as case studies.
Learning outcomes encompass both speciﬁc and general knowledge, skills and
attitudes acquired through participation in an educational activity (British Columbia
Standing Committee on Evaluation and Accountability, 2001), and generally refer to
explicit expectations of what a student will be able to do as a result of a learning activity
(Jenkins and Unwin, 1996). “Bloom’s Taxonomy” (Bloom et al., 1964), offers an
alternative to learning outcomes by way of learning domains (Clark, 2000); Bloom’s
model proved helpful in laying foundation for developing the learning objectives of TSL.
We compiled the TSL learning objectives as a means of mapping learning goals,
strategies, and outcomes, drawing on the pedagogical models noted above for guidance.
Our strategy was quite simple: integrate learning processes rooted in participants’
heads (cognitive domain; engagement, e.g. through academic study and understanding
of sustainability and global citizenship), hands (psychomotor domain; enactment of
theoretical learning through practical skill development and physical labour
(e.g. building, painting, planting)), and hearts (affective domain; enablement of values
and attitudes to be translated into behaviour, e.g. developing a learning community with
individual and group responsibilities) (Figure 1). The goal of this integration is to effect
what Hauenstein (1998) refers to as the behavioural domain, the ultimate goal of
transformative learning. We propose that the combination of Hauenstein’s educational
taxonomy for describing student learning outcomes, with our TSL pedagogy for
program evaluation, provides a useful conceptual framework to promote locally
applicable sustainability attributes and content knowledge. This combination may also
enable further insight into whether sustainability has “been learned,” is believed, and/or
is practiced in participants’ lives, that is, whether and how transformation occurs. TSL
learning objectives are meant to direct, encourage and reinforce learning, and are
designed to assist participants’ learning through the development of well-integrated
programs. Through integration and implementation of the TSL learning objectives,
instructors can further develop their current practices by ensuring that there is a
balanced approach to the three domains of potential transformation. Uniting the head,
hands and heart of teaching and learning ideally enables targeting and transformation
of the higher order “behavioural domain” (Hauenstein, 1998).
Related pedagogies: what they are and what they share. TSL further emerged from
study and implementation of pedagogical models that pertain to the agenda outlined by
the UN Decade of EfSD. These pedagogies enable inter/transdisciplinary, experiential,
and place-based sustainability learning. The pedagogies that we found to be most relevant
are: action learning, community service-learning, critical emancipatory pedagogy,
environmental education, participatory action research, pedagogy for eco-justice
and community, problem-based learning, and traditional ecological knowledge.
See Table I for deﬁnitions and brief overviews of intended learning outcomes of these
educational models. These learning models provided insight into the social and historical
foundations for the importance of sustainability in higher education; further, these models
afﬁrmed the basis for the development of TSL.
Mapping the pedagogical landscape. The existing pedagogies we explored, though
broad in their combined scope, are often viewed as distinct from one other, remaining
more narrowly focused and not imparting truly transformative teaching and learning
experiences (Lange, 2004). In developing TSL, we studied some established forms of
sustainability and transformative education. In so doing, we began to develop a
pedagogical landscape, a terrain with which to better understand their relationship to
We grouped the pedagogies listed in Table I according to head, hands and heart,
creating a three-sided “pedagogical landscape.” The pedagogies are not ﬁxed in position;
their relative positions will be inﬂuenced by their particular practice. This ternary
diagram provides a simple way of mapping the pedagogies, through depiction of head,
hands and heart as an organizing principle, as well as the relation amongst learning
models, the organizing principle, each other and TSL (Figure 2). We propose TSL as a
comprehensive framework for these seemingly discrete genres of education. In this case
the TSL model organizes and encapsulates that which exists, thereby re-creating, rather
than creating, the broad ﬁelds of sustainability and transformative education.
A Venn diagram depicting
(combinations of head,
hands and heart) and
synergies (in spheres) of
the TSL pedagogy
wherein the principle of
head, hands and heart
engages and enables
participants to enact
HEAD: learning through readings, lecture,
discussion; includes critical thinking
HEAD and HANDS:
designing and building
painting a fence
HEAD and HEART: singing
HEAD, HANDS and HEART: planting a garden;
preparing food for a community gathering
Note: There are seven combinations that can emerge; an example of how each may be
actualized is provided
HANDS and HEART:
creating public art
Analyzing sustainability programs
Efforts to determine whether sustainability programs meet the learning objectives of
TSL culminated in the creation of a simple program assessment matrix (Table II). The
learning objectives that inform this matrix are a combination of guidelines, strategies,
outcomes and assessment criteria, derived from study of existing pedagogical models.
Decision matrices are design tools used in an array of ﬁelds to aid in decision-making
(Anderson, 2000). The program assessment matrix we present is based on a decision
matrix pattern, arranged in a grid with decision criteria (i.e. learning objectives)
forming the rows, and decision options (i.e. learning programs) forming the columns.
The learning programs, which are all valid or potentially successful options, are scored
against the TSL criteria of learning objectives. The goal of “scoring” learning
programs is to see where each is strong and where there is room for improvement.
Learning programs may be compared against one another based on the objectives that
may or may not also include different weighting factors to account for constraints or
Pedagogical model Overview of intended learning outcomes
Action learning A form of experiential learning that enlists peers in helping
learners question their assumptions and (optimally) experience
a paradigm shift before applying their learning in new
situations (McGill and Brockbank, 2004; Revans, 1998)
Community service-learning An educational approach that integrates service in the
community with intentional learning activities. Within effective
CSL efforts, members of both educational institutions and
community organizations work together toward outcomes that
are mutually beneﬁcial (Hayes, 2006, p. 2)
Critical emancipatory pedagogy An ideology for learning facilitation that arises from an
emancipatory tradition, focusing on equity amongst classes,
races and genders (Mezirow, 1985; Freire, 1970)
Environmental education An approach to teaching and learning that provides people with
experience and knowledge to care for our environments
(Gruenewald, 2004; Orr, 1994)
Participatory action research A summary of terms in social science that refer to involvement
of participants in the research process, commitment to social
change, and that include aspects of social learning. There are
many ways to deﬁne true participation, action and exactly what
constitutes true research (Moore, 2005b; Coghlan and Brannick,
2001, Ch. 1; Stringer, 1999)
Pedagogy for eco-justice and
An ideology for learning facilitation that acknowledges and
ﬁnds tensions in “industrial mindset,” works to replace
attitudes with the metaphor of ecology (Bowers, 2001)
Problem-based learning A framework for learning that is focused, experiential and
organized around investigation of real-world problems.
Authentic experiences foster active learning, support
knowledge construction and integrate school learning and real
life (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,
2005; Barrows, 1994)
Traditional ecological knowledge Knowledge bases built by local or traditional resource users, as
opposed to "experts"; argues for acknowledgement of more
diverse forms of knowledge (as opposed to simply expert
western science) (Berkes, 2004; Turner et al., 2000)
An overview of some
that relate to
signiﬁcance of the variables at hand (Anderson, 2000) (Table II). Various methods for
assigning values can be utilized, but each is semi-qualitative and subjective to some
degree. The objective in utilizing a modiﬁed decision matrix for the case studies was
not to identify the “best” learning program; rather, the goal was to determine how
different programs were meeting each objective. The decision matrix therefore enables
comparison of each learning program against a common set of learning objectives and
assignment to each program a score of 0-4 on each learning objective. A mark of 4
indicates that the program met a certain objective to the best of its ability while a mark
of 0 indicates that the program has not addressed that area. More detail on the criteria
of this rubric is provided in Table II.
Often, objectives are weighted in a manner that indicates their hierarchy within the
decision-making process. Although we grouped the objectives, we did not assign
weightings for them, as it was determined that each criterion was equally important
within the TSL framework (i.e. “cognitive engagement” and “transdisciplinary
curriculum” are equally important as “fun” as objectives). TSL is a new framework of
models based on the
organizing principle of
head, hands and heart
Notes: This ternary diagram charts the relatedness amongst these pedagogies to each other and to
the foci of Head, Hands and Heart. The pedagogies are not fixed in position; their relative positions
will be influenced by their particular practice
Pedagogy for Eco-justice
Ecological Knowledge Environmental Education
Learning objective Description
1. Cognitive engagement Requires observable, sustained, engaged attention during a
task requiring mental effort (Ramsden, 1992; Corno and
2. Transdisciplinary curriculum Uses a curriculum that integrates knowledge from numerous
distinct disciplines, embedding streams of knowledge into one
another and integrating them in new ways (Moore, 2005a, b;
3. Critical thinking Encourages participants to analyze ideas by reﬂecting on them,
identifying categories or components that comprise them,
considering what they are based on and whether or not they
apply in a given situation (Paul and Elder, 2001; du Boulay,
1998; Ramsden, 1992)
4. Systems thinking Encourages use of complexity theories and an ecosystem
approach to recognize that seemingly separate activities, from
many interdependent social, ecological, and economic systems,
form one complex global system (Holling, 2001; Kay and
5. Understanding of sustainability Presents sustainability as a complex, interdisciplinary
challenge that must integrate socioeconomics, socio-cultural,
and biophysical and ecological concepts, strategies and goals
(Moore, 2005a, b; Grimm, 2004)
6. Understanding of global citizenship Fosters an appreciation of issues surrounding the fulﬁllment of
responsibilities as citizens of the world (Banks, 2003; Davies,
2001; Reardon, 1988)
1. Experiential learning Promotes learning through direct, self-initiated experience,
reﬂection on experience, formation of ideas that are applied to
new experiences (Roberts, 2006; Kraft and Sakofs, 1988; Kolb,
1984; Dewey, 1938)
2. Applied learning Contextualizes learning to empower and motivate students,
while helping to develop skills and knowledge required for
employment, further education and active participation in
communities (Barrows, 1994)
A matrix of TSL learning
objectives, with a
possible ranking of 0-4,
depending on how well
each objective is met
Learning objective Description
3. Democratic and participatory learning
Encourages course participants to share access to ideas and
enactment of leadership and justice within the learning
through participatory decision-making. Participants own
processes and therefore solutions (Moreno-Lopez, 2005; Kaner
et al., 2001; Thayer-Bacon, 1996)
4. Conﬂict resolution Uses creative and effective ways to avoid, transform and
resolve conﬂict (Kaner et al., 2001; Jones and Kmitta, 2000;
5. Collaborative Introduces new perspectives and new knowledge, leading the
group to new discoveries. Encourages united action by course
participants for common purpose or beneﬁt, with a willingness
to adjust to individual differences to reach agreement.
Participants share in the construction of their knowledge
(Cranton, 1996; Bruffee, 1981)
6. Service learning Helps foster civic responsibility by requiring participants to
engage in service that meets a need in a local community,
including structured time for participants to reﬂect on their
service experience. Requires participants to form meaningful
collaborations with members of the greater community (Hayes,
2006; Eyler and Giles, 1999; Jacoby, 1996)
1. Empowering Seeks to impart participants with a greater sense of authority
and enablement to participate as decision-makers in their
socio-cultural realities (Freire, 1970; Moreno-Lopez, 2005)
2. Creative Includes processes that brings new things into being, and
allows participants to do the same (Reid and Petocz, 2006;
3. Fun Encourages participation in amusing, enjoyable and
motivating ways (Rieber et al., 1998; Malone and Lepper, 1987;
Learning objective Description
4. Values-focused thinking Encourages creating better alternatives for decision problems,
identifying decision opportunities more appealing than the
decision problems that confront you, and articulating and
using fundamental values to guide and integrate
decision-making activities. Includes reﬂection on experiences
by thinking about, mulling over and evaluating them (Keeney,
5. Inclusive Works to promote equitable and just access to involvement in
the educational, social and cultural activities of the course and
beyond, dictated by reason, conscience, and a sense of what is
fair to all (Macfarlane, 2004; Wane et al., 2004)
6. Place-based Engages learners through the positioning of a curriculum
within the context of participants own lives, communities, and
regions, thereby taking advantage of students and
communities natural interest in the local (Smith, 2002;
Notes: The learning objectives are organized by head, hands and heart, and can be integrated across post-secondary curricula to plan for and evaluate TSL. Head, hands and heart
corresponds with cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains of learning; collectively, these domains can enable perspective and possibly behavioural transformation
Objective is not
addressed in the course/program;
objective is beginning to be addressed in, but not exempliﬁed by, the course/program;
objective is developing into an important and well addressed
aspect of the course/program;
objective is well established and forms a fundamental aspect of the course/program;
objective has been met and/or exempliﬁed within the course/program
at the highest known level
learning objectives that emerged from study and implementation of established
pedagogies relating to sustainability and transformative education through integration
of cognitive engagement, psychomotor involvement through manual or physical skills,
and affective growth in feelings or emotional areas (Bloom et al., 1964). By evaluating
how programs score on this matrix (and potentially how programs score relative to
each other), educators can modify their curricula and objectives, as they see ﬁt.
Speciﬁcally, the use of the matrix allows educators to highlight strengths and
weaknesses in courses or programs. Monitoring the integration of cognitive,
psychomotor and affective domains is useful in further iterations of the program.
This paper introduced the TSL model by positioning this framework as a means to
engage and enable learners to enact principles, values and goals of sustainability for
perspective transformation, and ideally, ultimately to societal transformation. The TSL
model, and particularly the assessment matrix, may better enable transformations to
sustainability through more effective planning, implementation and evaluation of
collaborative sustainability pedagogies, particularly when paired with iterative
processes of reﬂection, innovation and implementation. The current UN Decade of
EfSD echoes many scholars’ calls to re-envision education for sustainability. Short of a
complete overhaul of education, we propose learning objectives that can be integrated
across existing curricula. University programs and courses meeting these learning
objectives exhibit an emergent property we term TSL.
This model is essentially still a work in progress. In developing TSL, we continue to
experiment with it as a means of enhancing its usefulness. Our work to date
demonstrates potential in applying this learning framework to courses and programs
in higher education. We posit that TSL is a useful framework in that it provides an
organizing principle that is simple and effective, and serves to engage and enable
participants to explore and enact sustainability. As such, TSL may clarify, elevate and
further unify sustainability-oriented pedagogies while strengthening their
While other teaching and learning models cover aspects of cognitive engagement,
practical application and emotional connection, TSL offers the organizing model, head,
hands and heart (Figure 1), to explicitly unite and embody the theories, practices and
heartbeats of sustainability within academic and applied ﬁelds. We hope that we have
clearly documented the usefulness of the TSL theory, particularly its organizing principle
of head, hands and heart, and its application, in the form of the assessment matrix.
We presented an innovative “pedagogical landscape” (Figure 2) and mapped some
established inter/transdisciplinary, practical, and place-based sustainability-oriented
pedagogies (Table I) by similarity to each other via the simple and effective organizing
principle of head, hands and heart. This cognitive landscape clariﬁes TSL as a valuable
bridge amongst sustainability pedagogies. We introduced three case studies that
further informed the emergence of the TSL pedagogy to provide additional insight and
examples to those interested in planning, implementing and evaluating TSL in various
learning environments. Finally, we detailed TSL learning objectives that were
developed through study of related pedagogies, and emerged through the case studies.
We presented an assessment matrix (Table II) based on a simple ranking rubric, with a
scale from 0-4 to assess the strengths and areas for improvement of TSL programs.
TSL is therefore useful for planning, implementing, assessing and reﬂecting on
sustainability-focused post-secondary education.
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About the authors
Yona Sipos is a doctoral student, Integrated Studies in Land and Food Systems, University of
British Columbia, Canada, where she coordinates the UBC-based Community Food Assessment
Project, and is a Graduate Academic Assistant at the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth.
Her research interests include the role of community-based learning in food system study and
sustainability education. Her personal interests include camping, and eating
(growing/sourcing/cooking) local foods. Yona Sipos is the corresponding author and can be
contacted at: email@example.com
Bryce Battisti is a doctoral student, Sustainable Agriculture Education, University of
California at Davis, where he has helped develop educational programs at the Student Farm and
worked as a workshop facilitator in the Teaching Resources Center. His research interests
include permaculture’s potential as a degree program in higher education and the use of more
experiential approaches to teaching and learning in sustainability education. His personal
interests include kayaking and teaching his kids to garden.
Kurt Grimm is an Associate Professor, Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British
Columbia. His research partners complexity and Earth System science towards a general theory
of living systems that may be practically applied to the sustainability imperative. His passion for
educational innovation is rooted in the linked experiences of knowledge sharing, Life experience
and invitation to transformation.
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